If you really want to get this question answered, you’d better join Forrester's CIO Forum 2012 in Las Vegas, on May 3-4, 2012. But for now, let me share with you what I intend to present at the Forum.

Here’s the elevator pitch: The job of the CIO is going to change from something like “show me the business process, and I will help you automate it” to “here is what we need to do to streamline our business capabilities and increase the firm’s level of engagement with customers and partners.” In other words, the CIO’s focus is moving from aligning IT and the business to aligning business capabilities and better serving customers.

To set the stage for my presentation, I will bring two key trends into one picture: The first trend comes from Josh’s Bernoff’s research. He has shown how successful companies changed their source of differentiation over time from manufacturing-centric positioning to being “customer-obsessed” in the age of the customer. The second trend comes from Andrew Bartels’ research. Andy argues that the history of IT has seen three waves of innovation — mainframe computing, personal computing, and network computing — while the fourth wave, smart computing, is now under way.

The first three waves of technology change entered the firm from the top down and were funneled through the IT department. COOs and CFOs sponsored the deployment of computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) and ERP systems through heavy reengineering initiatives in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and IT implemented them. And during the past decade, marketing and HR heavily relied on IT too, to create and support new web-based sales channels and employee performance management systems.  

Arguably, with the proliferation of mobile, social, and cloud technologies, IT’s role as a technology supplier to the firm becomes less prominent. Indeed today IT-savvy business executives and information workers can bring new devices, contract and use external application services, and get work done without asking IT. But does this radically change the CIO’s job? Needless to say, the CIO’s responsibility for keeping core applications running, secure, and affordable will not go away either. So what is new and differentiating for CIOs these days?

In my Forum presentation, I will argue that CIOs can make a huge difference in their firms when they work with business stakeholders to develop new models of engagement with customers and streamline the firm’s business processes. I will use examples and case studies to develop four recommendations for CIOs willing to reposition IT from a traditional back-office role to the more strategic frontline in the age of the customer:

  1. Partner with business stakeholders to develop a digital strategy and architecture that rely on cross-functional processes and context-rich information services to optimize customer experience.
  2. Build operational governance and management processes to react quickly to market opportunities and customer-life-cycle needs.
  3. Redesign the IT organization to enable cross-functional collaboration and sharing of specialized skills and knowledge while at the same time increasing its overall efficiency.
  4. Rethink performance management to relate the delivery of IT services to business processes and ultimately to customer value. 

I invite you to come to the CIO Forum 2012 in Las Vegas, on May 3-4, 2012 and also to follow the new Forrester.com in the weeks leading up to the event to hear from Forrester thought leaders and some of the speakers from the event.